Saadia Saadat, UK
IN my recent trip to Pakistan, I had a layover at Oman for about three hours so I decided to shop around, while roaming, some floral tapestry, most delicate pashmina shawls and hand-made beads embellished clutches caught my attention but then all my excitement vanished when I saw the label “Made in India”.
I asked the salesman over there who himself was an Indian; “why are you not getting them from Pakistan?” to which he replied because of the quality and I refuted his this statement and told him our quality is equally as good as yours in fact even better, but then he said something which made me speechless, he said” Madam because of the price, We are getting it cheaper from India”.
So after getting back, I did some research on our exports and came to realize that this year our cotton production was 30% less than the previous year which means that we have to import cotton to keep with our textile exports.
The reasons given by the incumbent government, of reduced production of our one of the largest cash crops was the years of bad weather, pest outbreak and farmers switching on to other crops and as a result we are utilizing our precious foreign reserves in importing record level of cotton to keep up with the demand, which in turn is stimulating textile production price hike.
In terms of sugar and sugar confectionery exports we see a decline too. In just 3 years’ time there is a 22% fall in exports of this commodity group. On the other hand, wheat exports from Pakistan which totalled $ 807 thousand in 2020, also stumbled.
Sales of this commodity group from Pakistan decreased by 99% in value compared to 2019.
The incumbent Government has also been accused of not taking effective measures in the eradication of smuggling to our neighbouring countries, and farmers are disappointed with the policies promoted as those favoured mill owners more than the actual farmers and many sitting Ministers have accumulated wealth by utilizing subsidies.
Another very important factor to note here is the mushrooming of thousands of housing societies and most of them are illegal, and are engulfing our fertile land.
Perhaps there are land mafias backed by the political elite who always find a way to change the status of our agricultural land into barren land, regardless of the consequences to our exports. So an assertive action from the government is deemed necessary in this regard.
In the last few decades, China and India have increased their exports manifolds as compared to Pakistan, countries like Vietnam, Turkey and Bangladesh are also now outperforming us in terms of trade.
Our neighbouring countries import raw material from us and produce finished goods to export to the rest of the world, hence earning a substantial amount of foreign reserves and we are wasting our dearly foreign reserves on importing raw materials.
According to the facts given above we are clearly not doing well enough, especially in producing and exporting of the raw material, so it’s about time that we start to explore other avenues to boost our exports e.g. IT services, Telecommunication equipment, renewables, organic chemicals, machinery, etc.
Our trade deficit is constantly widening and the only reliable fix that our Government can promote at the moment is improving and diversifying the export basket. Pakistan’s top ten exports account for more than 75% of the overall value, which includes mostly textile and textile related items, nuts and medical apparatuses.
The most lucrative sector at the moment could be IT services. Pakistan should heavily promote and facilitate start-up companies in the IT sector.
At the moment, Pakistan’s share of global IT sales is $2.8billion, out of which $1.6 billion accounts for the country’s export of Software and IT-enabled services, while IT service exports from India are over 70 billion US dollars in the fiscal year 2020.
The Business Process Management (BPM) and other services followed with a value of 33 and 34 billion U.S. dollars respectively.
Pakistan should consider investing heavily in SAAS (software as a service) as it’s gaining a lot of popularity and the future lies in it with a shift towards cloud computing.
The easiest way to promote the IT sector is to set up public partnership companies with the collaboration of IT universities/colleges district wise in the country.
This is also being observed there is no dearth of talent in Pakistan but we lack amenities.
The IT Ministry should come out of their hibernation mode and should play a vital role to facilitate this sector, so that a label “ by Pakistan” gets promoted.
[Writer is freelance Columnist Based in London.]